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McDonald v. Titus

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 6, 2019

JEFF TITUS, Warden, Rush City Correctional Facility, Minnesota Respondent.

          Zachary A. Longsdorf, LONGSDORF LAW FIRM, PLC, for petitioner.

          Susan B. Devos, BLUE EARTH COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE; and Matthew Frank, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, for respondent.


          Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge

         Petitioner Marlow Shelton McDonald was convicted by a jury in state court for committing a first-degree drug offense, a second-degree drug offense, a third-degree drug offense, two firearm offenses, and the offense of fleeing from a peace officer. State v. McDonald, No. A15-0268, 2016 WL 596222, at *1(Minn.Ct.App. Feb. 16, 2016). After the jury found that McDonald had five or more prior felony convictions and that his crimes were committed as part of a pattern of criminal conduct, the state court sentenced McDonald to consecutive sentences of 316 months for the first-degree drug offense and 12 months and 1 day for fleeing a peace officer (and to concurrent sentences for the other offenses). Id. at *1-2. His convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. Id. at *9-10; ECF No. 11-8.

         After McDonald's direct appeal concluded, the Minnesota Drug Sentencing Reform Act ("DSRA") took effect. 2016 Minn. Laws ch. 160. The DSRA increased the weight thresholds for first-degree drug offenses and generally reduced the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the increased weight thresholds applied only to crimes committed after the effective date of the DSRA, State v. Otto, 899 N.W.2d 501 (Minn. 2017), but that the reduced sentencing guidelines applied to convictions that were not final on the DSRA's effective date, State v. Kirby, 899 N.W.2d 485 (Minn. 2017).

         In July 2017, McDonald filed a petition for postconviction relief in state court. See ECF No. 11-9 at 6. The state trial court granted his petition to the extent that he sought resentencing on his first-degree drug offense under the reduced guidelines, but denied his petition in all other respects. ECF No. 11-9 at 35-45. The state trial court resentenced McDonald to 250 months on the first-degree drug offense. ECF No. 11-9 at 45. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, McDonald v. State, No. A18-0064, 2018 WL 3614669 (Minn.Ct.App. July 30, 2018), and the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review, McDonald v. State, No. A18-0064, Order (Minn. Oct. 24, 2018).

         McDonald then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging six grounds for relief. ECF No. 1. In a report and recommendation ("R&R"), Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung recommended denying McDonald's petition and dismissing with prejudice all of his claims. ECF No. 17. Judge Leung concluded that five of McDonald's claims were procedurally barred and that his sixth claim-an equal-protection challenge to his resentencing-was meritless.

         This matter is before the Court on McDonald's objection to the R&R. The Court has conducted a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Based on that review, the Court overrules McDonald's objection and adopts the R&R.[1]


         In his § 2254 petition, McDonald claims that (1) his right to equal protection was violated when the state trial court (a) refused to apply the DSRA's increased weight thresholds to his case and (b) resentenced him under a sentencing scheme that discriminates on the basis of race;[2] (2) his Sixth Amendment right to present a complete defense was violated when the trial court ruled that all of his past convictions would be admissible to impeach him if he testified at trial; (3) his right to due process was violated when the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during the "Blakely portion" of his sentencing proceeding; (4) his right to a speedy trial was violated; (5) his right to due process was violated when the State engaged in sentencing manipulation; and (6) his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated. See ECF No. 1.

         A. Failure to Exhaust and Procedural Default

         "Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, thereby giving the State the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights. To provide the State with the necessary opportunity, the prisoner must fairly present his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim." Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (cleaned up). A federal claim is "fairly presented" if the petitioner refers to "'a specific federal constitutional right, a particular constitutional provision, a federal constitutional case, or a state case raising a pertinent federal constitutional issue' in a claim before the state courts." McCall v. Benson, 114 F.3d 754, 757 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Myre v. Iowa, 53 F.3d 199, 200-01 (8th Cir. 1995)).

         When a claim is not exhausted because it has not been fairly presented to the state courts, that claim will be found procedurally defaulted-i.e., the petitioner will be barred from pursuing that claim in a § 2254 proceeding-if the state courts would not "accord the petitioner a hearing on the merits" of that claim because the petitioner has not "complied with state procedural rules governing post-conviction proceedings." McCall, 114 F.3d at 757. "If state procedural rules prevent the petitioner from obtaining such a hearing, then the petitioner is also procedurally barred from obtaining habeas relief in a federal court unless he can demonstrate either cause and actual prejudice, or that a miscarriage of justice will occur if [the court does] not review the merits of the petition." Id.

         1. Speedy-Trial and Sentencing-Manipulation Claims

         McDonald objects to Judge Leung's conclusion that McDonald's speedy-trial and sentencing-manipulation claims are unexhausted and procedurally defaulted.

         On direct appeal, McDonald was represented by counsel, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals allowed McDonald to file a supplemental pro se brief. In that pro se brief, McDonald raised his speedy-trial and sentencing-manipulation claims. ECF No. 13-1 at 10-14, 15-21. The Minnesota Court of ...

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